Sala de Prensa

Mayo 2003
Año V, Vol. 2




Unpunished crimes against
journalists in the Caribbean

Elizabeth Solomon *

At conferences such as this, the imperatives of good manners and basic instincts associated with wanting to be invited back, suggest strongly that speakers, such as myself, quote liberally from statements of the organising body in order to pay appropriate tribute to the underlying philosophies of that body and to reinforce the moral conviction that causes us to gather here. I find myself happy to apply this rule of thumb. In fact, the obvious wisdom of the UNESCO sponsored decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence compels me to bring our attention to these comments by the Secretary General of UNESCO.

In introducing the Culture of Peace, Koichiro Matsuura identifies that “ a global movement ‘in the finest sense’ is emerging”. A movement in which the ideas, energies and commitments of the worlds’ civil societies is causing a marshalling of all existing forces for social improvement. A movement that Mr Matsuura says represents “one avenue for harnessing the forces of globalisation for the common good”.

Generally, these kinds of words do not inspire journalists. We move in to action more readily in response to the harsher, uglier realities of human interaction. Yet this is our goal: social improvement. It seems patently obvious to me the vital role a free media plays, and must continue to play in promoting an exchange of ideas, the sharing of energies and the spread of commitment. Now more than ever, at this time when other global institutions established to curtail abuse of power have been abused by power seriously challenging their significance; now the free media must take up the mantle of protecting the human race. So that the most significant challenge early in the new millennium results from the war waged by the so called bastions of democracy on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other supporting instruments of international law created by mankind for the protection of the human race against ourselves, and indeed the United Nations bodies established to administer these instruments of peace. In the anarchy that reigns in international affairs, it is the responsibility of the free media to step into the breach and make sense of the cacophony of voices raised by civil societies that represent the ‘global movement’ that Mr Matsuura has identified. Luckily, technology has surpassed the boundaries of state control so the free media has entered this new millennium with powerful tools of communication; weapons of mass construction, if you will, for “marshalling of all existing forces for social improvement”. We have the internet. No one can stop us now. The future of human dignity is in our hands.

Declaration of Chapultepec

So let us to turn to the substantive issues of this presentation: unpunished crimes against journalists in the Caribbean. It took me a little time to wrap my head around that. Not because journalists in the Caribbean have not suffered some of the most terrible, brutal, violent crimes. We most certainly have and there is no doubt that the violence suffered by even one is an act of intimidation on us all. But because so many other crimes against journalists in the Caribbean are committed, unpunishable in the strictest sense, but so insidious in nature as to undermine our freedom long before we can effectively threaten the status quo. Yet, merely listing these challenges will not suffice. It is necessary to make all acts of suppression punishable. For this reason have chosen to look at the unpunished crimes against journalists in the Caribbean in the context of the Declaration of Chapultepec. I will measure the commitment of Caribbean governments to free speech against the provisions of the Declaration. I will not look at the performance of all Caribbean governments in relation to the general provisions of the declaration but at the general performance of the Caribbean towards the specific provisions. In international law, such a declaration has greater normative value than legal weight unless it is so widely and liberally applied to the practice of states that it can be considered custom, and customary international law is binding on all states regardless of their agreement to be bound. Those Caribbean governments that have become signatories to the Declaration must now be strenuously encouraged to implement its principles and as journalists we must bandy it about like a bible, waving it in the face of all those whose duty it is to carry out the provisions of the Declaration. In other words, we must consider every breach of each provision a crime, a punishable crime. We must write about it. Disseminate it. Take it to court and ask the judge to consider it. We must wage a campaign to create custom in much the same way that UNESCO seeks to create a culture of peace.

* Elizabeth Solomon es periodista y activista de derechos humanos en la organización Right to Rights, en Trinidad y Tobago. Esta es su participación en la conferencia Freedom of Expression: Early New Millennium Challenges, organizada por la UNESCO en Kingston, Jamaica, 2 y 3 de mayo de 2003.

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